In his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, Blessed Pope Paul VI warned of the dire consequences that would befall societies if they used artificial means to separate sex from procreation. Nearly two generations later, society has experienced these consequences, which include the decline of marriage and growing number of children born out of wedlock and reared by single parents, high incidences of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), high abortion rates, and the beginning of sexual behavior by children at ever-younger ages.
Kathleen Eaton Bravo, founder and CEO of Birth Choice, has worked to encourage abortion-minded women to choose life for the past 34 years, and has seen the results of our contraceptive culture more clearly than most. As she told Catholic World Report in 2011, she had an abortion herself as a young woman, and immediately regretted her decision. It led her away from a lucrative business career and into one of pro-life activism beginning in 1981.
Today, Birth Choice (which will become Obria Medical Clinics on February 1, 2015) operates six medical clinics in California’s Orange and Los Angeles counties. It offers women free medical services, including pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, STD testing, well-woman exams (including pelvic exams and pap smears), referrals for low-cost mammograms, and prenatal care. Her staff also counsels women on the risks of contraceptives, emergency contraception, and abortion, and provides parenting education and adoption services. The clinics are served by volunteer doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, medical assistants, and administrative personnel. All nurses are qualified to give ultrasounds, a key factor dissuading many women from having abortions.
Bravo recently spoke with CWR.
CWR: How has the abortion debate changed since you first began your pro-life activism?
Kathleen Eaton Bravo: To begin with, there is a huge amount of federal government money funding the pro-abortion side, funneled to organizations that support or provide abortions. Planned Parenthood is a $1.1 billion “non-profit” (and I like to put non-profit in quotes), and has ample resources to promote the “hook-up,” contraceptive mentality among our young people. They teach children as young as 12 that they can have sex without consequences.
Our children think they’re protected, but they are not. When I started my pro-life work, we knew of four sexually transmitted diseases. Today, there are hundreds. Someone who has herpes, for example, could have one of many different strains. HPV is among the fastest growing of STDs, especially due to the different types of sex our children are having. In 1981, I was working with girls who had had vaginal sex; today, Planned Parenthood promotes oral sex, anal sex, and S&M sex.
In my Birth Choice office, we’re continually astounded. Even five years ago, we didn’t fully realize where the “hook-up” mentality was leading. It makes our hearts ache; our kids are dying emotionally, physically, and spiritually. They’re mimicking behaviors they see on the Internet and in movies.
Thirty-four years ago, the family was still at the core of the community and church; young people got married and had children. People did have sex outside of marriage, but it was still looked down upon. There was a sense that people shouldn’t be doing that.
Today, I have sexually active girls ages 12, 13, and 14 coming into my clinics. Thirty years ago, that was rare. If it did happen, it was usually a case of rape. Today, these children are coming into my clinics and are telling us they’re having anal sex. By the time they are age 20, they may have anal cancer. It’s the world we’re living in. Teens hooking up, having sex, and thinking there are no consequences. But the effects are devastating. In the Hispanic community in the inner city, for example, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in HIV/AIDS.
The continued decline of society has created a crisis of which we never would have dreamed. We’re not political at Birth Choice, but I have to say we’re amazed at some of the social policies promoted by the Democrats today.
CWR: None of California’s Democratic legislators are pro-life.
Bravo: No. Some will tell us they’re Catholic and personally opposed to abortion, but support its legalization because they say that’s what their constituents want.
CWR: You call California the “killing fields” because we abort more babies in this state than any other. Is that because we have the largest population, or is there more to it?
Bravo: There’s more to it. We promote abortion in this state. California Governor Jerry Brown recently increased abortion funding by 40 percent and decreased funding for pregnancy-related services by 10 percent, arguing that it will save us money over the next 20 years. The rationale is that if we abort children now, we won’t have to support them over the next 20 years.
California’s abortion rate is 40 percent higher than the national average. We have 672 abortion providers in the state; the next closest state is New York with 299 providers.
The face of the abortionist is changing, too. We’re seeing more private providers doing them in their offices as opposed to abortion clinics.
CWR: How has the Affordable Care Act (ACA) affected your work?
Bravo: It has had a tremendous impact. The ACA provides block funding for Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs). It has opened the floodgates to literally millions upon millions of dollars coming into community clinics that serve the poor, many of which are faith-based. These clinics have struggled in the past to raise the funds they needed to keep their doors open.
The ACA tells these clinics that if they become FQHCs, they’ll receive federal funding. However, the catch is that they must distribute contraceptives, including the morning after pill [which many believe to be abortifacient, causing an abortion], and give written referrals to abortion-minded women to other FQHCs that provide abortions.
So, the ACA has changed the health-care field. The FQHC model is coming at us like a freight train. Many of these struggling clinics, even those which are faith-based, are enticed by the large amount of money available to them and take advantage of it. They don’t like to compromise what they believe in by promoting abortion and contraception, but they figure there is no way to get around it. They rationalize their decision by saying, “We may not like some of the law’s requirements, but we do so much good in other areas.”
And, once you’ve taken these federal funds, you don’t go back. You get used to it; you come to depend on it. It’s a line you cross. Were you to stop taking the money, your clinic would close.
And, you have to wonder where we’re going from here. Obamacare considers RU486 preventative health-care. This is a drug a woman takes, goes home, and it aborts her child. Will FQHC clinics be forced to distribute RU486? Can you see where this is going?
I had a meeting with Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, who is on our board. I explained this to him. He was distressed, and asked me, “Kathleen, what do I do? These are community clinics that serve our poor.”
Unfortunately, only Birth Choice clinics and one other I’m aware of refuse to take this federal funding. Many clinics now taking it are faith-based. In my opinion, this is blood money.
CWR: So clinics with a Catholic affiliation are taking this “blood money”?
Bravo: Yes. They say, “We have to do this for the poor.” They justify it because they believe social justice requires it. But the ends do not justify the means.
CWR: Do you find that abortion clinics are primarily in poor neighborhoods?
Bravo: Definitely. Organizations that provide abortions target the poor, who are primarily Hispanic or African American. If you use Google Maps, you can verify this for yourself. Do a search for abortion clinics, and you’ll find them concentrated in the inner city, particularly in big cities like Los Angeles or San Francisco. Sacramento also has a heavy concentration.
If you find a stand-alone clinic, it is typically near a college or university providing abortions for students.
CWR: What is the religious affiliation of women who have abortions?
Bravo: Most are Christian: 37 percent, Protestant; 28 percent, Catholic; 20 percent, Evangelical. The remainder have no religious affiliation.
CWR: You’re open about the fact that you’re competing with Planned Parenthood. You want to persuade those women who would otherwise go to Planned Parenthood to come to Birth Choice and have their babies. How have you kept up with them?
Bravo: To maximize their funding from the federal government, Planned Parenthood has become a primary care provider.
CWR: Meaning, if I have a sore throat, I can go to them for treatment.
Bravo: Yes. So we adopted their model, and became a primary care provider. We collaborate with other clinics that do not take federal money, such as the Lestonnac Free Clinic. I tell them, “You send me your patients in need of sexual health and pregnancy care, and I’ll send them back to you for other primary care.” In this way, we can comply with the law and continue our mission. Lestonnac has many clinics in Southern California.
CWR: Its executive director, Ed Gerber, is a committed Catholic.
Bravo: Yes. Ed is my hero.
CWR: Why are you changing your clinics’ name to Obria?
Bravo: Historically, the pro-life movement has named its pregnancy centers to attract donors. It could be a “Life Center” or “Birth Choice”; we marketed to the donor.
But to be successful in our mission, we have to get patients out of Planned Parenthood clinics and into our centers. We’re doing this by matching their services, minus contraception and abortion. We also think a name change will help.
In the past, our focus was on the woman and her baby, but we want to include the man as well. We’ve done surveys and have discovered that men are uncomfortable going to a facility named “Birth Choice.” Men didn’t see it as a place for men. Also, we surveyed college students and found they didn’t trust us because they think our name implies we have an agenda.
Obria means “works.” We’re doing good works, and the name suggests we have a broader range of services, and that we don’t have an agenda. We think this new name will help us market to the patient rather than the donor. We want to compete in offering a higher level of health care, without defining ourselves to the patient as pro-life. The bottom line is that we believe the new name will bring us many more people.
We own the Obria name nationally, we own the URL and there’s no one else out there with the name. We’ve had our soft opening with our new name, and on February 1, the new signs will go up.
CWR: How many people do your clinics serve?
Bravo: We serve 20 to 30 a day in our clinics, and a total of 78,000 since 2007. It was in 2007 that we became a medical facility and began tracking our numbers. When we first opened, we had three Orange County pregnancy centers and saw 420-500 people annually. Ninety percent came for diapers and baby formula, and 10 percent wanted pregnancy tests (of which half were positive).
That 500 has grown to 10,000 annually, and some years as high as 14,000. It was difficult to verify how many babies we saved in the beginning; I’d estimate five a year. Since 2007, we’ve saved 6,000. The ultrasound has made a big difference. Up to 92 percent of women who see an ultrasound change their minds and have their babies.
CWR: You’re aware of undercover sting operations in Planned Parenthood facilities, where workers encourage girls they believe to be underage to lie about their ages so they can get abortions. There was one in which a Planned Parenthood executive wanted to take a donation to fund abortions only for minorities. What did you think of these videos?
Bravo: They reaffirm what we know is going on in abortion clinics. When you work for an organization that kills babies, that has pregnant women coming in to flush their babies down tubes, it is gruesome. It affects your morality. You can’t kill children and maintain an environment that is warm and fuzzy.
The callousness of abortionist Kermit Gosnell made the news recently, too, but there are Gosnells everywhere. We have them in Santa Ana and Los Angeles killing the children of our poor.
When women leave my clinics and have their babies they are happy. When they leave the abortion clinics, they’re in tears. It’s obvious who’s really helping and serving these women.
CWR: What does Planned Parenthood think of your work?
Bravo: They don’t like me. They threaten me with lawsuits. They persecute me when they have the chance.
I’m a member, for example, of the Coalition of Orange County Community Clinics. Twenty-eight clinics belong to it, including Planned Parenthood clinics. Often you have a person from Planned Parenthood serving as its president. For five years, I tried to join, but was unable. I went to the Orange County Board of Supervisors, and a good Christian supervisor, John Moorlach, was finally able to help me join. Planned Parenthood tried to get me kicked out, but six clinics supported me and I was able to remain.
The Coalition offers training for clinic staff, sometimes run by Planned Parenthood. They’ve told us our staff was not welcome at their training events.
In another instance I wanted to participate on a committee at Hoag Hospital [a prominent hospital in Newport Beach, California] and Planned Parenthood and Family Planning Associates, another abortion provider, objected. They went to Hoag to complain. A Hoag doctor said to me privately, “I love what you do, but you can’t be on the committee.”
CWR: Churches are an important support to you in your work.
Bravo: Yes. In fact, I pay a staff member to go to churches, meet with pastors and share what we do. Some clergy have had negative experiences with pro-life people. The pro-lifers come to them angry, and insist that the church is not doing anything to support the pro-life cause. But, pastors have many important activities going on in their churches, and can be limited in the time they devote to a particular area. So instead of complaining that they’re not doing anything, we try to share in a positive way what we do. We ask, “What can we do to help you?”
The churches have been a phenomenal support to us. There is one Catholic parish that gives us $2,000 per month. We benefit from the Diocese of Orange’s Pennies from Heaven collection, an annual collection in diocesan parishes for pro-life centers. It raises $225,000, which we share with other pro-life organizations. The bishop of Orange, Kevin Vann, helped us get a $2.5 million grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. So, we feel very blessed.
CWR: Is abortion getting the attention nationally that it deserves?
Bravo: No, because it’s become a political rather than a moral issue. Few realize that it has had a devastating impact on our society, and threatens our culture’s survival. Take the example of Europe. When its nations accepted contraception and abortion, they stopped replacing their population. Christianity began to die out. And, with Europeans having no children, immigrant Muslims came in to replace them, and now the culture of Europe is changing.
The US faces a similar future. In only two of the past 40 years have we replaced our population. We’re on the same track as Europe. The church and family are in crisis. Children are at the core of the family; in fact, without children, we don’t need families. In a few decades we’ll be in the same place as where Europe is today. And, economically we’ll be in crisis because we’ll have so few young people working.
I must say, however, I’m encouraged by the younger generation. They’re the most pro-life we’ve ever seen. They understand that the unborn child is a human being and that he is entitled to legal protection. We must teach them that the hook-up culture is unhealthy and that they can always say no to it.
We must teach them that sexuality is beautiful, and to use it the way God intends. Our society is so concerned about the pollution of our environment, and sees the importance of eating healthy and exercise, so why would our young people want to pollute their bodies with contraceptives?
CWR: What do you need in your work?
Bravo: We need funding. I have to pay salaries and clinic operating costs. When I get funding, I move ahead. When the money runs out, I stop.
We need volunteers, especially doctor and nurse volunteers. Give me four hours a month and you’ll make a dramatic impact in our clinics. Having a medical professional tell young people why they shouldn’t use contraceptives or get abortions is tremendously effective.
We need prayers. We’re on the front lines of the culture war. Pray for my staff. I’ve been doing this for 34 years, and it’s tough not to burn out. But, we’re called to be saints, to be the face of Christ, and what better way to do this than to promote the sanctity of life from conception to natural death. I really believe God is on our side.
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